Nicola’s Cantina, or just ‘Nicola’s’ as everyone calls it, has very quickly become a favourite dining spot for food lovers in the region.
Mexican food is the latest craze in dining in other regions around New Zealand but Nicola Cantrick and Ross Coeland have had a love of Mexican food for many years. If you ventured out to Golden Beer Brewery at Mapua you may have seen him cooking up his Mexican inspired treats to enjoy with a beer on the wharf and Cantrick was a partner in the Suter Café before she moved on to establish her own business with Coeland.
When I sat down with them last week I asked ‘why Mexican?’ and not the more traditional café food Cantrick had been producing for many years. She told me ‘I wanted to reinvent myself after six years at the Suter Café, I lived in LA for a while and that is the centre of Mexican food in California, I have always loved the Mexican food style because it is delicious, packed with flavour and is affordable. Mexican food is now recognised as one of the three great culinary traditions in the world, it is so vast in variety with so many nuances, from the crisp taco with a mince filling to the rice filled burrito. People now recognize that the fresh flavours are healthy, it is also a cuisine we have had experience with so it was a pretty easy decision.”
While the first three restaurants Cantrick had were Italian inspired. (Java in the 1980’s in Courtney Place in Wellington, then Salt in Oriental Parade and then, with Katrina, at the Suter Café) She has worked all over the world cooking including setting up a Middle Eastern restaurant in Hong Kong and running a Thai brasserie in Sydney called Lime and Lemongrass, an establishment that was a regular haunt for Sydney’s rich and famous, including the likes of Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman and Elle McPherson.
She say “while I have no formal training I have worked with very talented people – Margo Henderson who started with me at Java but then went on to become a culinary super star in London with her husband Fergus has been a big inspiration”
Coeland on the other hand is a graphic artist by trade and has always had a passion for hot sauces. He worked for Dr Hot in Christchurch who made hot sauces that have become well know. If you like your sauce fiery then you will probably know the names Mongrel Mouth and Anal Annihilation (you can try them at Nicola’s). He also owned and operated a very well-known and popular salad bar in Christchurch called Rocket so is no stranger to putting smiles on people faces with great food.
Coeland has also spent a lot of time in Mexico where his daughter lives for much the time and is the ‘King of the Grill’ at Nicola’s Cantina. His taste for the super-hot and Cantrick’s taste for the mild, gentle flavours makes the perfect combination to develop a popular menu, it is the fusion of these talents that is the real secret to their success.
Cantrick says ”we didn’t want it to be just another café, we wanted to create a place people could come and have fun and sometimes there is nothing funnier that seeing a big brave guy coughing and spluttering because he couldn’t handle the heat he added to his food”. “We want people to have fun and because we love feeding people we get huge satisfaction from seeing that”.
Traditional Mexican cantina food is the stuff they love to cook and have just returned from a few weeks in Mexico where they were inspired by so much and have so many ideas they don’t know where to start when it comes to introducing them to their menu here. The plan is to gradually add new and exciting dishes or simply update some of the dishes they currently have to inject the inspiration they got from their trip into the menu here in little old Nelson. Follow them on Facebook tom find out when new treats are added to the menu facebook.com/nicolascantina